Next on the Dodge menu was a Spirit successor called Stratus, which went on sale in early 1995 as a lower-priced version of the new "JA" Chrysler Cirrus sedan introduced some six months before. Hewing to the new corporate formula, Stratus delivered wide-track cab-forward sleekness on a 108-inch wheelbase, plus standard antilock brakes, dual airbags, even air conditioning.
Like Intrepid, there were base and sportier ES models. Engine options began with another new all-Chrysler engine, a twin cam multivalve 2.4-liter four with 140 horsepower. ES sported a Mitsubishi-based 2.5-liter V-6 with 164 horsepower.
Both these engines mated solely with four-speed automatic. The 132-bhp Neon engine with five-speed manual, a combo that proved livelier on the road than it looked on paper, was standard for all Stratus models. Prices were appealingly competitive at just under $14,000 for the standard Stratus and some $17-grand for the better-equipped ES. Roomy, responsive, and rock-solid, Stratus met a very favorable reception, and Dodge happily built over 58,000 for model-year '95.
Though Chrysler was now starting to sever ties with Mitsubishi, its longtime Japanese partner loomed large in the 1995 Avenger. A spiritual successor to Daytona, this was little more than a sporty coupe based on Mitsubishi's midrange Galant family sedan, with rather sedate styling on the same 103.7-inch wheelbase.
Most American-market Galants were now built in Illinois, so Avengers were too, even though Chrysler had sold its interest in the plant to Mitsubishi. Chrysler did contribute to Avenger's styling, but though designers tried hard for a cab-forward look, it was less evident here than on the company's all-American products.
At least the front maintained a Dodge identity by wearing the make's trademark crossed-bars grille motif. Once again, there were base and ES models. Respective power was the single-cam Neon 2.0-liter and the Mitsubishi V-6 (engines shared with the Stratus ES). The V-6 was limited to four-speed automatic.
At $17,191, the ES cost some $4000 more than the standard Avenger, but the extra money was well spent, bringing anti-lock brakes (optional for base), fatter tires on 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, rear spoiler and other goodies. Yet even this Avenger was no excitement machine -- just another pleasant, competent, Japanese-style car that bordered on anonymity. Most critics judged Avenger a big step forward from the weary Daytona, but that was surely damning with faint praise.
Dodge finished up its linewide makeover with a brilliant new second-generation Caravan for 1996. Viper had been around only five model years by then, yet was now the oldest car in the fleet. Dodge had indeed remade itself with unusual speed.
Not that Viper was neglected. By 1995, in fact, team leader Roy Sjoberg could claim over 1100 changes to the snaky sports car since the first '92 roadster. New ones joined them for '96, starting with 15 more horsepower (to 415 total) and an extra 23 pound-feet of torque (to 488). Higher compression and a hotter cam were responsible, as was eliminating the distinctive "shin burner" side exhausts for a less-restrictive setup routed beneath the car to a pair of center rear outlets.
In addition, curb weight lightened some 60 pounds by changing suspension components from steel to aluminum, a newly optional lightweight hard top afforded much-better weather protection than the skimpy fabric "bikini," and there were new color schemes featuring broad nose and deck stripes hinting at a racing program. Equally significant, production shifted to a new plant on Detroit's Conner Avenue, which promised improved workmanship. Partly because of the move, model-year production was deliberately held to just 500 units.
Another reason was the spring 1996 debut of a fixed-roof Viper fastback as an early '97 entry. Though it looked much like the roadster, the GTS coupe was claimed to be 90 percent new. Standard were power windows, adjustable pedals, air conditioning (at last!), and a redesigned dash incorporating dual airbags, features that also showed up on '97 RT/10s. And there was yet more muscle, as Viper's V-10 was both lightened and fully reengineered to produce 450 horsepower (at 5200 rpm) and 500 pound-feet of torque (peaking at just 3600 revs).
For more on the all-American Dodge, see:
- Dodge New Car Reviews and Prices
- Dodge Used Car Reviews and Prices